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The Descendants: A Novel (Random House Movie Tie-In Books) Paperback – October 4, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 307 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hemmings's bittersweet debut novel, an expansion of her first published short story ("The Minor Wars," from House of Thieves and originally published in StoryQuarterly), stars besieged and wryly introspective attorney Matt King, the land-rich descendant of Hawaiian royalty and American missionaries and entrepreneurs. He wrestles with the decision of whether to keep his swath of valuable inherited land or sell it to a real estate developer. But even more critical, Matt also has to decide whether to pull the plug on his wife, Joanie, who has been in an irreversible coma for 23 days following a boat-racing accident. Then Matt finds out that Joanie was having an affair with real estate broker Brian Speer, impelling him to travel with his two daughters—precocious 10-year-old Scottie and fresh from rehab 17-year-old Alex—from Oahu to Kauai to confront Brian. Matt finds out the truth about Joanie and Brian, which influences his decision about what to do with his family's on-the-block land and complicates his plans for Joanie. Matt's journey with his girls forms the emotional core of this sharply observed, frequently hilarious and intermittently heartbreaking look at a well-meaning but confused father trying to hold together his unconventional family. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From The New Yorker

The narrator of this audaciously comic début novel, the scion of the last Hawaiian landowning clan, has floated through his privileged life: marriage to a model given to "speedboats, motorcycles, alcoholism"; children getting into trouble (cocaine, bullying) at élite schools; membership at a century-old beach club that rejects those with "unfavorable pedigrees." But when a catamaran accident leaves his wife in a coma he must wake from his own "prolonged unconsciousness," reacquaint himself with his neglected daughters, and track down his wife’s lover. Meanwhile, his cousins are urging him to sell the family’s vast landholdings for development—to relinquish, in his eyes, the final vestige of their native Hawaiian ancestry. Hemmings channels the voice of her befuddled middle-aged hero with virtuosity, as he teeters between acerbic and sentimental, scoffing at himself even as he grasps for redemption.
Copyright © 2007 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Series: Random House Movie Tie-In Books
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (October 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812982959
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812982954
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (307 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #126,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Matt King, who is descended from a Hawaiian princess and the haole who married her and inherited her land, is the primary beneficiary of the family land trust, and he is now trying to decide what to do with the land on behalf of his cousins and family. The trust is in debt and the demand for prime land in Hawaii is enormous. Matt, however, will be making no decisions in the immediate future, however. His thrill-seeking wife Joanie now lies comatose after a boating accident, and her lack of progress alarms the doctors in Honolulu, who have her on life support.

When doctors are forced to honor her living will, Matt wants their daughters to be with him, and in the hospital visiting Joanie while they await her death. Alexandra, a seventeen-year-old model, returns home from boarding school on the Big Island and, accompanied by Sid, a friend from a previous school, determines she will live her own life, even under the eyes of her father at home. Scottie, the ten-year-old, an attention seeker at school and at home, continues to act out.

When Matt discovers that Joanie has been having an affair, to which he had been oblivious, he is at a loss, and his internal dialogue and self-examination begin in earnest. He wonders about her lover and whether he should encourage this "love of her life" to share Joanie's last days in the hospital. His search for Joanie's lover and the resulting discoveries lead to important lessons and new awareness of his own responsibilities.

The clear presentation of events, exceptionally realistic dialogue, and unique imagery give life to this strong debut novel, and the narrative speeds along.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Seeing the film "The Descendants" made me realize it must have come from a book; and so I found it and downloaded it onto my kindle. Not only should Clooney get an Oscar for his performance in the film, but whoever adapted this gentle, soulful, and ultimately transcendant little novel into the screenplay should get one too.

Kaui Hemmings' novel is low-key, unornamented, but richly textured with the complicated social and physical realities of Hawaii - a part of the United States that is by turns very familiar and as exotic as farthest Asia. Matt King and his two troubled daughters, Scottie and Alexandra, are trapped in a tragedy not entirely of their own making, and yet manage to hold onto each other to find their way together into something like happiness. The double gift of this elegantly spare book is that it tells us about an America few of us know, even if we've visited Hawaii as tourists; and it also lays out a searing historic moment in the life of this unique American family that is painful in its realism. I have never read a book that focuses on a great unhappiness, but also manages to capture both joy and humor while doing so. It is one of the few books made into films that made my appreciation of the movie greater in the reading of the book.
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Format: Paperback
I picked The Descendants up in my school library on Thursday afternoon. I wanted to read it before the movie came out next month and just hoped I could finish it in between all of my schoolwork. After I read the first few pages, I was hooked. I debated skipping classes just so I could keep reading, but I went to class counting down the time until I could revisit the characters- especially Scottie. As a reader, I can't help but feel bad for the father, Matt King. He's never been hands-on regarding his daughters often leaving it that for his now comatose wife, Joanie, and the nanny. He is forced to step up with his wife in a coma and actually be the hands-on parent, which isn't made easy by his two daughters: Alexandra (who resents her mother) and Scottie (who is acting out). While dealing with his troubled family, Matt (a descendant of a Hawaiian princess) must make the decision of who to sell his family's land to in order to eliminate debts that they have incurred. This novel is both funny and heartfelt; most books start out strongly only to drag in later chapters, but this novel is the opposite. I was hooked from the first page until the last page; I was actually upset that I had finished reading it so quickly. I strongly recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick and funny read.
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Format: Paperback
I saw the movie before I read the book. I found the book far more interesting because the characters are revealed with so much more depth. To me, the story is about a middle aged man who's coasted his whole life and suddenly wakes up when a crisis hits (wife goes into coma after a boat racing accident). He's part of a historically prominent land-owning family, wealthy, has low expectations of his marriage, and was an absent parent to his two girls. It's galling to see how disengaged he was with his daughters' lives before his wife had her accident.

This is a character-driven novel and it was fascinating to experience the evolution of Matt King and his daughters throughout the story. They're not likable people but Kaui Hart Hemmings provides just enough of an intersection of tension (wife's in coma, discovers she was having an affair, potential sale of family land etc) to reveal the different dimensions of each character. She's truly masterful in capturing the complexity of being human with all of one's flaws and redeeming qualities. Just when I thought I disliked a character like Alex, the wild self-centered teenage daughter, she does or says something that shows she's capable of empathy and caring for her father. Isn't that what happens in life? You judge someone - they're selfish, they're rude, and then they do something or say something and you realize it's not that simple.
You discover they're kind, or loyal.

I also thought the author did an amazing job of making Joanie, Matt's wife who's in a coma, come to life through the thoughts and descriptions of her from Matt, her daughters Scottie and Alex, friends and extended family. Even though she's lying unconscious in a hospital bed, she is really springs to life throughout the book.
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